As a Laudato Si’ Circle, we make time to listen to Indigenous voices in Australia

March 1, 2021

By Quentin Grafton, PhD, Roger Fitzgerald, and Jacqui Rémond
Laudato Si’ Circle Members

From November 2019 to June 2020, a group of people inspired by Laudato Si’ and from Anglican, Catholic, and Uniting parishes met together to listen to the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Laudato Si’ gives special emphasis to the collaboration of faiths and to Indigenous knowledge, wisdom, spirituality, and the understanding of ecosystems. This and the national push for Indigenous rights gave rise to a desire to meet together and listen to the voices of Aboriginal people.

Quentin Grafton, PhD
Jacqui Rémond
Roger Fitzgerald

The group’s listening was greatly assisted by an Anglican Board of Mission guidebook on the Uluru statement, “A Voice in the Wilderness – Listening to the Statement from the Heart” (VITW).

About 20 people from the three congregations participated with the facilitating team studying the guide, with an average of about a dozen participants at each fortnightly listening session.

The group engaged with each other over seven face-to-face sessions, before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated Zoom teleconferencing for the last seven sessions.

All agreed that the group meetings should focus on listening and that any group actions should be left until the end of all the listening sessions. Deliberately suspending the human urge to “leap to action” enabled the group to listen deeply and explore through dialogue.

The group’s face-to-face sessions made use of rotating venues at each of the worshipping communities involved. Refreshment, guitar, and other entertainment were part of the face-to-face sessions.

All of the 90-minute listening sessions began with a common prayer written by the listening group and with an “acknowledgement of country.”

The listening group was entirely non-Indigenous, but various group members had personal life experiences and levels of contact with First Peoples.

One had been heavily involved in the establishment of the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial. Some had come from New Zealand, Canada, and from colonial Africa. Personal stories and experiences were shared as part of the dialogue.

Group members came to learn together and to dialogue on one chapter of the VITW book at a time, each fortnight, or when needed. Members sometimes dwelled on a chapter across several sessions.

The reading material provided important insights into Indigenous perspectives in Australia and supported the group to engage with scripture, history, and culture. The sharing of perspectives was a key part of the success of the group meetings.

Teleconference guests included VITW author Celia Kemp from Alice Springs, and Glenn Loughrey, who is an Indigenous artist, proud Wiradjuri Man, VITW illustrator, and Anglican Minister.

The group provided a small honorarium to each for their time, which was funded by a modest per person, per session contribution. Other valuable guests included a Canberra local, the Reverend Lindsay McDowell from Southern Cross Ministries, and Nathan Tyson Nijinsky, a Uniting Church Minister.

The last VITW chapter focused on Indigenous understanding of Country. This session was made particularly meaningful by the presence of local Ngunnawal knowledge holder, Wally Bell.

Jacqui Rémond, a co-founder of GCCM and the Oceania Chapter lead, facilitated this session with some of Wally’s photographic visuals shared on Zoom. Wally explained the Ngunnawal word for listening which is “wanggi” and spoke about relationships with Country.

Some of the Laudato Si’ listening (wanggi) group intend to go further. If possible, the group plans to walk with Wally Bell so as to deepen understanding of Country and creation through lived experience of place.

Some of the group convened to engage with the ideas and actions of Laudato Si’ chapter by chapter and are now undertaking guided ecumenical dialogue over Lent on the theme, “Climate for Change.”

As we continue our journey of hope during Laudato Si’ Lent, take time to pray and reflect on what actions for others God is calling you to do this Lent.

By yourself or with a small group, pray the Ecological Examen to bring awareness to your ecological sins. Once you’ve done that, calculate your ecological footprint and commit to making at least one concrete change.

“Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care… makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (LS 231).